Sierra Leone: Enact a comprehensive anti-FGM law
Despite the fact that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is globally recognised as an extreme violation of the rights of women and girls, the practise is widely accepted in Sierra Leone – both as a social and cultural norm.
Sierra Leone does not presently have any national law that explicitly prohibits and punishes the practice of FGM. Previous efforts to criminalise it have not materialised.
Women and girls who have not been cut are often frowned upon and prohibited from taking part in certain community functions. The practice is for the most part carried out by traditional cutters (soweis) who yield a lot of power and control over the country’s social and political functions.
In 2014, the government of Sierra Leone placed a countrywide ban on FGM to control the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease. Individuals found guilty of carrying out the procedure were fined and although this led to a drastic reduction in the prevalence of FGM at the time, the ban was not effected long term. The practice of FGM resumed and has since then been going on uninterrupted. Reports of women and girls being kidnapped and forced to undergo the cut are therefore common.
Due to the lack of political goodwill; failure by the State to outrightly condemn FGM; and remarks from various political leaders justifying the practice, this human rights violation continues unabated.
In this regard, Equality Now calls on President Julius Maada Bio, the Ministries of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs; Internal Affairs; Health and Sanitation; and the Sierra Leone Judiciary and law enforcement mechanism to:
- permanently ban FGM by enacting and enforcing a comprehensive anti FGM law.
- Support educational outreach to relevant communities and local chiefs on the harms of FGM.
- Protect women and girls who are uncut, from intimidation and abuse.
We further call upon the First Lady Fatima Bio to take FGM as part of her Hands off Our Girls campaign that seeks to protect girls from various human rights violation such as child marriage and sexual violence that are greatly interlinked with FGM or happen as a result of FGM.
These actions will ensure that Sierra Leone honours its national, regional and international duty to protect the rights of women and girls.